April, 2017 to May, 2017

Montpellier University medieval medical libraries: 2 rue de l’École de Médecine, 34000 Montpellier

Artists:Murray Ballard, Baccio Bandinelli, Irene Brown,

Keith Brown, Daniel Brown, Jan Breughel, Annibale Carracci,

Bettina Dittlmann, Elpida Hazdi-Vasileva, Nadia Lichtig,

Rosalind McLachlan, Kelly Richardson, Richard Talbot,

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Wolfgang Weileder 

“Art is something that seemingly lets us see the ‘impossible depth of objects’ ”.

Graham Harman, (2005) Guerilla Metaphysics, Peru IK: Open Court, p105

This exhibition of international artists from Germany, France, Canada, Macedonia and the UK examines how we see the world through objects, and how objects act upon us. The show takes the anthropologist of science Bruno Latour’s idea of how objects interact and act on the world as its starting point – an idea he has labelled “interobjectivity”.

The exhibition is staged in the historic buildings of Montpellier University’s original libraries, and draws on three hundred years of collecting by the institution. Montpellier was one of the first universities in the world to pioneer modern medical sciences, and this exhibition pairs eleven artists with objects from its extraordinary collections of early-modern medical artefacts, natural history collections – and European Old Master drawings. Accordingly the exhibition provides a unique chance to view seldom-seen works by some of the most celebrated artists of all time, including Breughel and Tiepolo. The result is an experiment in what anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has called “the social lives of objects”. It includes, for example, one of the very first independent drawings of landscape by Annibale Carracci, shown alongside a photorealist image of an imagined future landscape, covered with four billion computer-created crystals, sculpted digitally: one for every alternate species on the planet.

Brown explores the curiosity, wonder and even terror that accompanied scientific experiments from the seventeenth- to the nineteenth centuries. In her work, we see that the Enlightenment commitment to objective and universal truths, and to uncovering nature’s ‘secrets’, were only ever partial, and accompanied by darker impulses. Those things invisible to us –  the microscopic life and the stars beyond our sight, and the electricity that is invisible, inaudible, and untouchable – are not ‘objects of knowledge’ we can safely command. They are both Other to us, and able to exert forms of power over us, rather than vice versa. 

Here a reworked, condensed version of Phantasmagoria Electric is paired beside a Tiepolo drawing.  Scientific thought could be perceived as founded by curiosity for the natural world and the quest for the experience of the marvellous through its inexhaustible diversity and inventiveness. The creatures drawn by Tiepolo, in their swarming and their grimaces, can be regarded as the "dark Wildlife "of the diversity of species that science, philosophy, mythology and art attempted to describe and explain. They are the intense expressiveness of the satyrs or fauna of mythology, and were designed generations before the nightmares of Füssli or Goya.

Created in partnership with Montpellier University, Newcastle University, Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Montpellier Agglomération, and La Panacée: Centre de culture contemporaine, Montpellier.